Sunday Scripture Readings

THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT,

MARCH 23

Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19;

1 Corinthians 22-25; John 2:13-25

OUR GOOD NEWS: Jesus teaches non-violence through a seemingly violent act. Matthew, Mark and Luke concluded Jesus' public life with his cleansing of the temple, interpreted as the crucial event which provoked hostility leading to His death. John however understood it as an incident summarizing Jesus' entire ministry, and therefore shifted the moving story to the beginning. "In the temple precincts he came upon people engaged in selling oxen, sheep and doves, and others seated changing coins." Selling approved sacrificial animals and exchanging pagan coins with their idolatrous inscriptions were services rendered to pilgrims and controlled by the priests. Jesus' action was accordingly symbolic, recalling Jeremiah's accusation of God's house having become a den of thieves - allowing external religiosity to excuse widespread violations of the commandments (Jeremiah 7:11). And Zechariah had prophesied final-age blessedness and end of commercialism within the temple precincts. Jesus' act thus fulfilled Jewish expectations of purified temple worship as a sign of Messianic times. But it also exceeded prophecy. By adding the detail that sacrificial animals as well as their vendors were expelled, John had Jesus effectively terminate the entire Jewish worship dispensation. Jesus Himself became the new Temple: unique intersection between God and His people, sole source of divine will (torah) and blessing (cult). A new order of worship centered on Christ's body in its glorified humanity renders animal sacrifice obsolete. "He drove them all out of the temple area, sheep and oxen alike, and knocked over the money-changers' tables." A careful reading of the text shows that the force employed by Jesus was likewise symbolic rather than real. Contrary to popular paintings of the event, there was no hint of terrible, righteous anger. No one was hurt or incurred property damage. "He made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, sheep and oxen alike." "Whip" derives from the Latin term of instrument to drive cattle; the text doesn't say it was used against humans. Fragile dove cages weren't overturned, the owners merely warned. "Get them out of here! Stop turning My Father's house into a marketplace!" Paul (second reading) taught that demand for "signs" could be a sinful dodge to avoid commitment. Nevertheless, the radical nature of Jesus' claims demanded proper authorization, and He obliged with acts fulfilling Scripture as well as miraculous "signs." As a result, many open to God's Word "believed in His name." Two comments deserve further reflection. First, through symbolic acts as well as teaching, example and miracles, Jesus showed Himself the fulfillment of all Old Testament promises and centered Kingdom living on His own person. Second, properly understood, today's Gospel story doesn't justify the use of force and violence in the service of the good.

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